Tinder Dating, Harvard Business School, and Yemeni Coffee

Happy April Fool's Day. A whimsical but also true post.

Harvard Business School crest logoI had a smile on my face as I departed Tealuxe in Harvard Square. It was just after 7 p.m. on October 26 last year, and I considered the date a success. In Tindering the whole process is bizarre. It's a bit like window shopping in that we look, we open a few doors, and maybe even peruse in more depth. And like in shopping, with a practiced eye, one can rapidly size things up. When I worked in fashion retail at Scoop NYC I saved customers the hassle of telling me their size. Rather, I would simply say, "hold-on, I'll get your size". My ability was doubly efficient as I could not only tell you your height, weight, shoe size, sleeve length, neck size, and more, I also knew how it varied across brands. Customers would tell me, "I'm not a 7 1/2 I'm an 8. I'd say try the shoe."

So having shopped a bit in my day, I've learned nothing beats real live 3D. We can click, swipe, read, judge, and consult with friends, but all that is trumped by that first meeting. And for that reason, I skip wherever possible the former and instead swipe right with abandon, write "hey!", exchange three messages, and say lets meet. I've sized for fit and what remains is actually trying things on.

That's why I steered Sarah from Tinder messaging earlier that afternoon to meeting in person that night. I'm no-nonsense, let's get some tea. She arrives and immediately you can tell she has that unmeasurable panache and attitude that says "HEY YOU, I got hipster glasses and a personality that can banter." You can only tell half that equation from photos.

We banter, talk with bravado, and probably sit on the same side of the table, back to the wall, observing the room and making snarky comments. My tolerance for looking like I'm on a date is zero. So is my tolerance for let's-get-to-know-you dryness. I've never met but we shall act the part of old friends.

So after an hour of friendship, we part ways. I leave Tealuxe with a smile. You were amusing whereas before I only knew your photos made you appear hipster.

As you return to Dunster for your Resident Tutor duties we plan for another meeting of friends.

So far so good. But Tinder dating is an exercise in inundation, snap judgements, and a culture of sampling. It's a bit like startup ideas in an incubation space where drawing on whiteboards is fun but the leap to incorporation never happens. I recall a wry comment at the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Conference I attended. I said Al Mokha was incorporated to which a few law students responded how I was ahead of 90% of the pack.

Two days later Sarah and I grab drinks at The Sinclair. To potentially make it awkward, I see my fellow i-Lab entrepreneurs at the bar. We sit at the other end. In further blending of personal and professional, she knows one of my former interns. Call it my military training, but I prefer a sharp demarcation between professional affairs of people I manage and my personal life. And then there's the more general problem: When dating, I avoid talking about work as long as possible. Perhaps it's the well-trodden conversation path of "oh, you started a company? A coffee one, huh?" One of the potential downsides of being a coffee entrepreneur (AKA a dude with a straightforward idea) is everyone has an opinion. "Isn't the market saturated?" Or, "Coffee from Yemen? Tell me about that." These conversation tracks are like so many paths crisscrossing well traveled terrain. I love my job and I suppose as an entrepreneur my job is just as much tour guide as it is anything else. BUT, as a reluctant tour guide the beauty of the terrain isn't self-evident. This sends me down the path of selling my idea, that I can create a national brand of coffee from Yemen. As such, "what do you do?" is a profoundly personal question. What I do is I'm trying to succeed at life.

Sarah is a business student and at Harvard no less. It's inevitable that we will discuss my work and true to form she probes the business model. "What's your marketing plan? And as CPG what are your sales channels and will you compete on price or quality?" She's right in asking these questions even if it's maddening that I can see thinly veiled the marketing 100 class. It doesn't help that it's asked in that Harvardian master-of-the-world tone that it's my job to recognize helps propel HBS students to the top. Confidence works.

With my business under scrutiny I get defensive. I see it happening, understand the factors, yet still feel the need to justify what I do. Sarah is in the midst of Year 2 "Interview Week" and already has offers from Amazon and Apple. She can pluck the opportunity and in the process pass judgement on this startup and that startup. Or in Tinder parlance swipe left or right. I see it happening, her getting ready to swipe left on my defensive posture. Or is it my business plan? I should be power posing instead.

We finish our beers and I walk her in the direction of Dunster. I feel deflated and swiped left upon. She's friendly as am I though my gut tells me date #2 is date #finished. We text a bit more the next week. Soft ending.

All in all, the experience was a bit like this story: What was the point? I suppose I enjoyed the process. Hope you did too.

Anda Greeney
Anda Greeney